National Space Society Issues Position Paper on Protecting Earth from Cosmic Impacts

On February 15, 2013, a meteor exploded over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. The blast damaged over 7,000 buildings and almost 1,500 people suffered injuries requiring treatment. As we observe the anniversary of that event, it is important to understand its significance and specifically what it means for the United States. Millions of objects in space, including asteroids and comets, are in orbits around the Sun that cross Earth’s orbit. When they approach Earth, they are referred to as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Some NEOs are large enough to cause significant damage if they impact the Earth. Many such objects have struck Earth in the past, inflicting damage ranging from trivial up to and including global catastrophe. While a future large strike with catastrophic consequences is certain, we do not know whether it will happen in 150 million years or fifteen months.

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) has been a consistent supporter of actions to defend our home planet from such events. In a position paper released today, the Society focuses attention on the near-term need and the opportunity to significantly improve our ability to detect and track collision threats to the Earth. While recognizing that this is a global problem, the paper focuses on recommended actions for the United States. Additionally, NSS urges all space faring nations to add an amount of at least one percent of their civilian space budget for developing defenses against these threats.

NSS believes that the immediate task before us is to find and track NEOs large enough to cause damage on Earth. To this end, current US ground-based searches should continue, including use of the Arecibo radio telescope. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope should be fully funded and encouraged to vigorously pursue NEO detection. The B612 Foundation’s Sentinel Project and the JPL NEOCam infra-red space telescope should be fully funded. The Society also feels that now is the time to more seriously address the detection of long period comets. Additional work should be done on NEO characterization and deflection research.

NSS Director and Space Settlement Advocacy Committee chair Al Globus summed up the situation: “We face an existential threat. We can develop the ability to remove it. There is little or no benefit to waiting. Let’s do it.”

See NSS Position Paper on Protecting Earth from Cosmic Impacts.

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Elon Musk’s Plans for Mars

From CBS This Morning: 2-minute video after 30-second advertisement.

Transcript after about 40 seconds:

“We’ve got to restore American ability to transport astronauts with domestic vehicles, and that’s what we hope to do in about two years.

“The next step beyond that is to maybe send people beyond low Earth orbit to a loop around the Moon, possibly land on the Moon — although I’m not super interested in the Moon personally because obviously we’ve done that and we know we can — but maybe just to prove the capability.

“Then we need to develop a much larger vehicle which would be sort of what I call a large colonial transport system. This would really be — we’re talking about rockets on a scale, a bigger scale than has ever been done before, that make the Apollo Moon rocket look small. And they would have to launch very frequently as well.

“That’s what’s needed in order to send millions of people and millions of tons of cargo to Mars, which is the minimum level to have a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.

“We might be able to complete that [rocket] in about 10 or 12 years, and hopefully the first people we’d send to Mars would be around the middle of the next decade.”

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Water Detected on Largest Object in the Asteroid Belt, Ceres

Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.

Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions.

“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

The results come at the right time for NASA’s Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.

“We’ve got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don’t have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself,” said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.”

For the last century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system’s main belt of asteroids.

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system’s existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively. It took Herschel’s far-infrared vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. While the telescope spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature.

Here is what scientists think is happening: when Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes at a rate of about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per second. When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes.

The strength of the signal also varied over hours, weeks and months, because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel’s views as the object spun on its axis. This enabled the scientists to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres, previously seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. The dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms faster than light material. When the Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres, it will be able to investigate these features.

The results are somewhat unexpected because comets, the icier cousins of asteroids, are known typically to sprout jets and plumes, while objects in the asteroid belt are not.

“The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids,” said Seungwon Lee of JPL, who helped with the water vapor models along with Paul von Allmen, also of JPL. “We knew before about main belt asteroids that show comet-like activity, but this is the first detection of water vapor in an asteroid-like object.”

The research is part of the Measurements of 11 Asteroids and Comets Using Herschel (MACH-11) program, which used Herschel to look at small bodies that have been or will be visited by spacecraft, including the targets of NASA’s previous Deep Impact mission and upcoming Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex). Laurence O’ Rourke of the European Space Agency is the principal investigator of the MACH-11 program.

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. While the observatory stopped making science observations in April 2013, after running out of liquid coolant, as expected, scientists continue to analyze its data. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at JPL. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community.

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information about Herschel is online at: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/herschel. More information about NASA’s role in Herschel is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/herschel. For more information about NASA’s Dawn mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn.

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Video of Virgin Galactic’s Third Powered Flight

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Opposition to HR 3625 Grows

On December 11 the United States House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved a bill, H.R. 3625, that would require an act of Congress to cancel four of NASA’s largest programs: The Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew vehicle, the International Space Station, and the James Webb Telescope.

On January 6, Space News published an editorial called “Kill This Bill” which they summarized “H.R. 3625 would turn NASA’s biggest programs into privileged juggernauts.” The editorial stated: “Legislation proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would effectively shield selected big-ticket NASA programs from termination without prior congressional approval is bad policy that should be rejected by the Senate, if it gets that far.” It went on to say the bill “would remove a powerful incentive for the relevant NASA center and its contractors to control costs,” that it would create “a new class of untouchable programs,” and it “should be killed before it comes anywhere near the president’s desk.”

Lori Garver, recent Deputy Director of NASA and former Executive Director of the National Space Society, was quoted in Space News stating “We should not be debating whether or not we should have the ability to terminate a program that is not working in a cost-plus environment.”

The Planetary Society Blog on December 10 stated that the bill sets a bad precedent and that these projects “like every other project at NASA, should be judged on their merits and their cost vs. benefits through the normal political process, not added to some protected list to the exclusion of all other NASA activities.”

The National Space Society drafted a position statement opposing HR 3625 in December and issued a press release on the subject on January 13.

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National Space Society Opposes HR 3625

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) strongly opposes the passage of House of Representatives bill HR 3625. This bill would (a) require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel four of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, and (b) allow contractors for these programs to have immediate access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funds which currently are held in reserve to pay the government’s obligations in the event of such termination. The four covered programs are the Space Launch System, the Orion crew capsule, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and the International Space Station.

Ordinarily, government agencies like NASA have the right to terminate a project if it no longer appears necessary or cost effective, provided it pays “termination liability costs” which are sometimes provided for in such contracts. It is unusual to require an act of Congress in order to stop a program. As a practical matter, getting Congress to pass such an act would be extremely difficult.

Consequently, if HR 3625 is enacted, even after the responsible agency determined that a project was no longer useful, contractors would continue to get millions of dollars for unnecessary and unwanted programs until such a time as Congress passed a bill specifically calling for the cancellation of the project and allocating the funds required for program termination.

“The ability to cancel a program for convenience is essential to allow the government to deal with changing circumstances,” said NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos. “Requiring explicit Congressional approval to terminate a program for convenience represents a significant shift in power between the Executive and Legislative branches of government that should not be taken lightly.”

National Space Society Position Statement on HR 3625
December 2013

The National Space Society (NSS) opposes passage of HR3625, which was approved December 11, 2013 by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. This bill, if approved by the full House and Senate, would have the impact of requiring that funds currently reserved for termination costs in the case of program cancellation for convenience be immediately spent on a short list of named programs. HR3625 also states that NASA cannot cancel these programs without Congress first passing a law to that effect.

Although this may initially sound like a good idea, HR3625 violates standards of professional program management and creates a special class of NASA programs that may be more difficult to cancel in the future. As a result, potential termination actions could focus on other NASA programs that are not covered by this Act. Additionally, HR3625 sets a bad example for management across the entire US government, and may lead to further attempts to create a wide range of specially protected programs. All NASA, and all government programs, are normally evaluated regularly on their merits by both executive and legislative branches. Although it is probable that HR3625 would have minimal impact on termination-for-cause actions that derive from poor performance, it would add additional obstacles to termination-for-convenience actions and make such actions more difficult. Finally, this bill potentially could create a “moral hazard” — a precedent encouraging companies to take additional risks if they felt a covered program would be more difficult to terminate.

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2014 Legislative Blitzes: Washingon DC in February, Home Districts in August

Washington Legislative Blitz February 23-25, 2014

The National Space Society will be participating in the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) 2014 legislative blitz in Washington DC in February. NSS encourages all members to sign up for and participate in the SEA Blitz as described at www.spaceexplorationalliance.org/blitz/ from Rick Zucker of Explore Mars. Dale Skran, Deputy Chair of the NSS Policy Committee will be coordinating NSS members as needed. Please send him a short email message at dalelskranllc@gmail.com indicating you plan to participate when you sign for the Blitz.

The Space Exploration Alliance includes groups ranging from NSS and Explore Mars to AIAA, the Moon Society, the Mars Society, the Planetary Society, the National Society of Black Engineers, SEDS, and Buzz Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation. The major goal of the SEA blitz from an NSS perspective will be to provide as much support for the NASA budget as possible during these difficult budgetary times. Now is the time to stand up for space and be counted. We look forward to seeing you in Washington, DC, February 23-25, 2014.

Home District Legislative Blitz August 2014

If you live too far from Washington to participate in the 2014 SEA Blitz, NSS is currently planning on organizing a “home district” blitz later in the year, probably during August when Congress is in recess and members of Congress are in their home districts. If you are interested in participating in the home district visits please send an email to Dale Skran at dalelskranllc@gmail.com. This email should contain your contact information. By doing so, you are giving permission for a statewide coordinator to contact you for purposes of organizing home district visits.

Additionally, we are seeking at least one volunteer to coordinate visits in each state. If you are interested, please send an email to that effect to Dale Skran at the email address above. We especially encourage multiple volunteers for larger states such as California and Texas. Thanks for your support.

Dale Skran
Deputy Chair, NSS Policy Committee

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NSS affiliates with Space Exploration Asia

SEA-nameMission:

“Bring space to life by bringing life to space.” – Howard Bloom

Vision:

Space Exploration Asia exists to catalyze life’s third great leap.

  • Life’s first great leap was the jump from the comfort of the sea to the hostile barrens of the land. That move resulted in over fifty million new ways to make a living—over fifty million new species of plants, animals and living things.
  • Life’s second great leap came when dinosaurs took to the utter emptiness of the skies and became birds. That leap produced so many new ways to make a living that there are now twice as many species of birds as there are of us land-crawling mammals.
  • Life’s third great leap is the eight and a half minute jump beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity, the eight and a half minute climb beyond the skies, the climb to a front stoop that looks out on an entire universe, a cosmos waiting to be turned from desert to greenery. For 3.85 billion years, life has eagerly thrust itself. We have an obligation on behalf of life and its diversity. We are the only species able to take life beyond the atmosphere, beyond the clutch of gravity.

Objective:

Space Exploration Asia’s job is to stimulate and inspire. Our task is to gather the most uplifting and expert dreams of the global space community and to present them to the public. Our goal is to build the kind of infrastructure on which all of humankind’s impossible achievements have been built: the infrastructure of desire and the infrastructure of vision.

Space Exploration Asia aims to engage with governments in Asia and the globe, providing advisory services and linking agencies with the right people, the people with the greatest expertise in space.

We also encourage and advise universities and colleges to develop curriculum and faculties on space exploration and space technology. We help achieve this by providing teachers and lectures with more exposure, networks, tools and resources.

We engage with corporations to introduce and explore the facets of space exploration as a rich, untapped business opportunity

We thank the National Space Society for opening its vast international network to us. Space Exploration Asia exists is to take the National Space Society’s vision to Asia…and to all of humanity.

www.spaceexploration.asia

SEA-sonja2Sonia A. Mahendran, CEO, Space Exploration Asia

Sonia A. Mahendran, Coordinator of the International Advisory Board of the National Space Society, is CEO of Space Exploration Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Mahendran co-founded and was CEO of Asia World Summit, the events company that brought Bill Clinton to Malaysia. She has also been a Director at Malaysia’s leading independent private think tank, the Asian Strategic Leadership Institute, and a groundbreaking executive in the Asian Pacific and Middle Eastern operations at British global summit promotion firm Marcus Evans.

In 2008, Mahendran and National Space Society board member Howard Bloom tested the Asian space waters by initiating a space-industry conference in Bangalore co-sponsored by India’s NASA — the Indian Satellite Research Organisation (ISRO) — and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), India’s most powerful trade organization. The event was SpaceBiz 2008.

Sonia’s signature Corporate Governance Summits have featured the likes of Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years; Raja Nazrin Shah, Crown Prince of Malaysia’s second largest state, Perak; Lim Eng Guan Chief Minister of Malaysia’s economically crucial Penang State; and Michael Hershman, Co-Founder of Transparency International.

Sonia’s goal for the National Space Society International Advisory Board is to recruit cabinet level members from Asia, Africa, and South America, members who can expand the scope of global National Space Society projects like the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative, the partnership between the NSS and the eleventh president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, an initiative designed to put space solar power on the priority list of the G8 and G20 nations.

Sonia collaborated with the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur on the Asian Metrocity Summit 2010 which brought Mayors from all around Asia and Europe to discuss sustainability.

SEA-peopleSEA-bubbles

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Origami used to design ultra-compact solar arrays

BYU engineers have teamed up with a world-renowned origami expert to solve one of space exploration’s greatest (and most ironic) problems: lack of space.

Working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a team of mechanical engineering students and faculty have designed a solar array that can be tightly compacted for launch and then deployed in space to generate power for space stations or satellites.

Applying origami principles on rigid silicon solar panels – a material considerably thicker than the paper used for the traditional Japanese art – the BYU-conceived solar array would unfold to nearly 10 times its stored size.

“It’s expensive and difficult to get things into space; you’re very constrained in space,” said BYU professor and research team leader Larry Howell. “With origami you can make it compact for launch and then as you get into space it can deploy and be large.”

The current project, detailed in the November issue of the Journal of Mechanical Design, is propelled by collaboration between BYU, NASA and origami expert Robert Lang. Howell reached out to Lang as part of landing a $2 million National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to explore the combination of origami and compliant mechanisms. (Joint-less, elastic structures that use flexibility to create movement.)

The particular solar array developed by the group can be folded tightly down to a diameter of 2.7 meters and unfolded to its full size of 25 meters across. The goal is to create an array that can produce 250 kilowatts of power. Currently, the International Space Station has eight solar arrays that generate 84 kilowatts of energy.

Howell said origami through compliant mechanisms is a perfect fit for space exploration: It is low cost and the materials can handle harsh solar environments.

“Space is a great place for a solar panel because you don’t have to worry about nighttime and there are no clouds and no weather,” he said. “Origami could also be used for antennas, solar sails and even expandable nets used to catch asteroids.”

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Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jovian Moon Europa

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter’s moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon’s surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa’s icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Europa

This graphic shows the location of water vapor detected over Europa’s south pole that provides the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off Europa’s surface, in observations taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012. Hubble didn’t photograph plumes, but spectroscopically detected auroral emissions from oxygen and hydrogen. The aurora is powered by Jupiter’s magnetic field. This is only the second moon in the solar system found ejecting water vapor from the frigid surface. The image of Europa is derived from a global surface map generated from combined NASA Voyager and Galileo space probe observations.

Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings were published in the Thursday, Dec. 12, online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

“By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa’s crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting.”

In 2005, NASA’s Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles subsequently have been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble’s spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of auroral emissions measured by Hubble’s imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by Jupiter’s magnetospheric particles and local enhancements of gas, and to also rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact. The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, near the moon’s south pole. Atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable auroral glow and leave a telltale sign that they are products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines.

“We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light,” said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth. Roth suggested long cracks on Europa’s surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host Enceladus’ jets.

The Hubble team found that the intensity of Europa’s plumes, like that Enceladus’s plumes, varies with the moon’s orbital position. Active jets have been seen only when Europa is farthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation for the variability is these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas giant planet.

“The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean,” said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

Europa’s and Enceladus’ plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has roughly 12 times more gravitational pull than Enceladus, the vapor, whose temperature is measured at minus 40 degrees Celsius, does not escape into space as it does at Enceladus. Instead, it falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles, according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon’s south polar region, the researchers hypothesize.

“If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated in Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, D.C. “The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair the Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa.”

Europa

This is an artist’s concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off of the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located 500 million miles from the Sun. Hubble Space Telescope spectroscopic measurements lead scientists to calculate that the plume rises to an altitude of 125 miles and then probably rains frost back onto the moon’s surface. Previous findings already point to a subsurface ocean under Europa’s icy crust.

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